Framestore reimagines Dobby for Deathly Hallows
The Soho-based effects house was tasked with giving Dobby the house elf a makeover in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Framestore explained how it was done at FMX 2011
Framestore's Ben Lambert talks through Dobby's makeover for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Framestore was one of many studios that explained the process behind its latest work at FMX 2011 last week, and this time, the focus was on the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which the character of Dobby received a makeover for his final appearance in the franchise.
As a free elf, the story called for him to lose some of his pained, world weariness and look like a middle-aged human, rather than old and haggard elf with leathery skin – but he had to remain recognisable as the Dobby from previous films.
Framestore was tasked with creating both Dobby, and Kreacher, Harry Potter’s inherited house elf.
Ben Lambert, head of modelling at Framestore, describes how the first step was to scan the physical maquette of the ‘dead Dobby’ used to to generate direct lighting on set, to create a mesh of around 800,000 polys.
The team were surprised by the weight of the maquette, which gave it a sense of realism, and the quality of the textures which were some of the best they’d seen. These models provided an excellent source of reference – especially the hands for sub-surface scattering – but the mesh needed some tweaking to fulfill the brief and to make it easier to animate.
Other reference sources include scans of voice actor Toby Jones for key facial expressions, plus lots of images of faces and skin from older people.
The main issue was the heavy wrinkling around the eyes and eyebrows, some of which were too thick, proving difficult to animate without intersecting. To test this, they began by making face shapes (typical phoneme shapes and expressions), which would show up any problem areas.
To test the Kreacher mesh, the team rotoscoped the voice actor’s eyes out and tracked them onto the digital character, which resulted in some rather spooky footage. The decision was made to make a greater distinction between the brow and the eye, which needed a new eye fold.
The modelling team cleaned up the fold above the eye and also reduced the eye size slightly to soften his appearance. They did a rig test with cornea bulge displacing the eyelid, and even modelled and animated the caruncle, the flesh in the corner of the eye which moves in concert with the eyeball. Other work involved reducing the mass of flesh around the mouth and eyes and some topology clean up prior to animation.
To rig the face, the team filmed the facial expressions of voice actor Toby Jones and used the FACS system to create around 150 different expressions.
They create the rough shapes on a low-res version of the mesh, then used a wrap deformer based on UV space plus optional per-shape displacements baked from Mudbox.
Lambert praised the software’s layering system which proved ideal for this task. They also used a custom smooth deformer which could be triggered by different face shapes.
Dobby’s body is made up of three meshes, like a Russian doll. There’s an underlying rigid mesh volume representing bone, a slightly larger mesh on top of this to replicate muscle bulk and fat, and then a textured skin layer on top.
These meshes are weighted together so that one drives the other. These are shown when Dobby’s slightly flabby arms jiggle as he gesticulates, and the skin layer is allowed to slide over the top.
A segmented animation rig is used for blocking before it’s replaced with the high-res version for rendering.
The final touch was to Dobby’s ragged clothing, which was simulated using maya nCloth, generating contact wrinkles and folds.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is out now on DVD and Blu-ray – buy it now from:
Visit the Framestore website
Read all the coverage from FMX 2011 on 3D World
on Friday, May 13th, 2011 at 9:00 am under Features, Making of.
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Tags: Animation, Deathly Hallows, Dobby, FMX 2011, Framestore, Harry Potter, VFX